Thursday, June 11, 2009

Six letters react to Aciman piece in NY Times

In reaction to Andre Aciman's heartfelt op-ed The exodus that Obama forgot to mention the New York Times published six letters, all but one endorsing the Egyptian-Jewish writer's viewpoint. A letter from an Armenian whose parents were expelled from Egypt drives home the point that the exodus of non-Muslims had little to do with Palestine, and everything to do with intolerant Arab nationalism.

Re “The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention,” by André Aciman (Op-Ed, June 9):

Mr. Aciman hits the nail on the head. President Obama, in his comprehensive speech in Cairo, did not say anything about the estimated 800,000 Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries for refuge in Israel and other lands that would welcome them.

I, too, find it strange that our president mentioned Arab refugees without acknowledging the fact that Jews throughout the Arab world have been victims of anti-Semitism since long before Israel became a state in 1948.

The president and his advisers need to understand that to be an honest broker in forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians, one has to be honest in reminding everyone of historical fact.

(Rabbi) Reuven H. Taff
Sacramento, June 9, 2009

It is tragic that Jews were forced out of Egypt so many years ago. André Aciman, however, does not mention that the Palestinians were forced out of what had been their lands and homes in Palestine.

It is interesting that Mr. Aciman says Jews had lived peacefully and were integrated into Egyptian society until they were forced out about 50 years ago. It is obvious that there was a direct connection to what was happening in Palestine/Israel, with the great catastrophe being endured by the Palestinians who had been forced from their homes.

This is not to say that the treatment of the Jews in Egypt was justified; two wrongs do not make a right. But in the interest of accurate reporting and to better understand the whole situation, it is essential to include all of the relevant facts.

Sarah Fike
Berkeley, Calif., June 9, 2009


André Aciman’s article reminded us of what happened in Libya, where we were born. Most of the Jews of Libya fled after post-World War II Arab pogroms; those who remained were forced to leave in 1967.

Personal property was left behind and expropriated, but so, too, was communal property. One of the telling statements we heard when conducting oral histories was, “I would never go back ... Qaddafi destroyed the cemeteries.”

Most of these Jews found refuge in Israel, where they arrived penniless. Our grandfather, a successful merchant in Libya, struggled in 1949 to find work delivering milk. The children of the Jews of Libya have become functioning members of Israeli society and long ago discarded the role of “refugee.” One cannot forget that nearly half the population of Israel is made up of refugees from Arab countries and their descendants.

Vivienne Roumani-Denn Maurice Roumani
New York, June 9, 2009

The writers are, respectively, director of the film “The Last Jews of Libya” and author of “The Jews of Libya.”


Thank you for this moving article about the Jews in Egypt. There are two factors that should also be considered. Israel always welcomed Jewish refugees into its society. In stark contrast, Palestinians have been kept in refugee camps throughout the Arab world, pawns in the long battle with Israel.

Second, the fleeing and expulsion of Jews from Arab lands after 1948, and the destruction of what had been vibrant Jewish communities, are a cultural loss in much of the Arab world that will never be rectified, even in my mother’s native Morocco, which had always had good relations between Jews and Muslims.

Edwin Andrews
Malden, Mass., June 9, 2009

As an Armenian-American whose parents were born in Egypt, I was intrigued by this commentary on President Obama’s oversight on the plight of Jews forced from Arab lands because of widespread nationalism. However, Jews were not the only victims. Vibrant Christian communities, including Armenians and Greeks, also suffered from discrimination in Arab countries, leading many to flee.

A paucity of cultural diversity has arguably contributed to the Arab radicalism seen today and is a stark reminder of what happens to society when divergent voices are silenced and opinions ignored.

Stephan Pechdimaldji
San Ramon, Calif., June 9, 2009


Read all letters

Update: Egyptian-born Viviane Levy has sent Andre Aciman' s article to President Obama, with a copy to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

An excellent discussion of the issues raised by Andre Aciman's piece is now taking place on the excellent blog Harry's Place.

6 comments:

victor said...

There is indeed irony in the letter by Sarah Fike of Berkeley (where else?). She states that there is a "direct connection" between the loss of Palestinian homes and the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt. She fails to acknowledge that the expulsion of Jews from Egypt was collective punishment. It's doubly ironic since Israel is so often condemned for inflicting "collective punishment" on the Palestinians, and yet the collective punishment inflicted on North African & Middle Eastern Jews gets a pass from Berkeley leftists.

Suzanne said...

@Victor and she is also misinformed:

"EGYPT ARABS RIOT AGAINST ZIONISTS; 10 KILLED, 350 HURT; Shops Are Stoned and Looted and Synagogue Set Afire in Cairo Outbreak POLICE CLASH WITH MOBS Alexandria and Other Cities Report Similar Scenes of General Strike Violence Police Standing By Stone-Throwing Begins EGYPT ARABS RIOT AGAINST ZIONISTS Looting Becomes Wholesale Department Store Raided Other Cities Affected U.S. Refinery Deal Threatened
By CLIFTON DANIEL By Wireless to THE NEW YORK TIMES.
November 3, 1945, Saturday"
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10616F9395E1A738DDDAA0894D9415B8588F1D3

74 TRIPOLITAN JEWS SLAIN IN ARAB RIOTS; 183 Wounded in Outburst That 'Astonishes' British--Curbs Follow 2-Day Disorders 74 TRIPOLITAN JEWS SLAIN IN ARAB RIOTS British "Astonished" No Economic Motive Seen False Reports Spread No Agreement With U.S. Yet
By CLIFTON DANIEL By Wireless to THE NEW YORK TIMES.
November 8, 1945, Thursday
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50711FF3D5B10738DDDA10894D9415B8588F1D3

bataween said...

Suzanne: you are right that violence against Jews predated the state of Israel. The story is the same in Iraq (1941 pogrom) and Libya (1945 pogrom). The danger with the concept 'collective punishment' is that it assumes that the Arabs reacted to Israel, whereas it was pre=existing nationalistic antisemitism and religious xenophobia which actually caused Arab rejectionism of Israel.
Bataween

Anonymous said...

Yes, perhaps the violence against jews in Arab lands predate the State of Israel (1941 as one example given, but it did not predate the beginning of the stirring for that state and the resulting problems in Palestine.

Albert I. B.

bataween said...

Albert, on the contrary:

The Damascus affair occurred in 1840, when an Italian monk and his servant disappeared in Damascus. Pogroms occurred in: Aleppo (1850, 1875), Damascus (1840, 1848, 1890), Beirut (1862, 1874), Dayr al-Qamar (1847), Jerusalem (1847), Cairo (1844, 1890, 1901-02), Mansura (1877), Alexandria (1870, 1882, 1901-07), Port Said (1903, 1908), Damanhur (1871, 1873, 1877, 1891), Istanbul (1870, 1874), Buyukdere (1864), Kuzguncuk (1866), Eyub (1868), Edirne (1872), Izmir (1872, 1874).

In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, it was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted.

Jews were murdered in 1898 (Algiers) 1905 (Sana'a) 1907 (Casablanca, Marrakesh, Oujda) 1909 (Darab, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Iran) 1911 (Mosul) 1912 (Fez).

I could go on.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Bataween, characters like Albert B never to cease to amaze me with their stubborn imperviousness to facts. Albert B wants to cling to his anti-Jewish [superficially "anti-Zionist"] accusation no matter what you tell him. Some people have an emotional need to accuse Jews of some basic responsibility for all the world's ills and for their own suffering.

Why didn't Albert B research this subject before making his accusation? Surely an intelligent, well-informed [or would-be well-informed], and fair-minded person would examine the truth of partisan charges and know something more about history than what Albert B knows.